Podcast Ep. #8: White Monkey Work

White Monkey podcastForeigners have the unique opportunity in China of getting some pretty wacky one-off gigs. Charlie and Dan grill Chengdu Living’s resident white monkey Eli Sweet on the benefits and pitfalls of this kind of work, his own experiences, and why these jobs exist in the first place.

Find links below to download or stream this 51-minute long podcast.

Topics discussed:

1:00 – What is white monkey work?
2:20 – Our experience in white monkey work
4:00 – White monkey work & China’s real estate boom
5:00 – Eli being the white monkey “inside the glass box”
10:30 – How to get white monkey jobs
12:40 – How well white monkey jobs pay
15:30 – White monkey job pro-tips
20:30 – Foreign agents for white monkey gigs & Tenzin
23:15 – Booms & busts within the white monkey economy
28:00 – Our craziest white monkey gigs
37:00 – How to negotiate wages
38:50 – Eli’s experience being Captain Morgan
45:00 – The present and future of white monkey gigs
46:20 – Closing thoughts & recommendations
48:00 – Why we should be grateful for white monkey gigs

Songs features in this podcast:

Download & Stream Links

Download Podcast #8

Or click below to listen to the podcast now through your browser.

You can also search for the podcast in your favorite podcasting app (mine is Overcast, which we highly recommend for iPhone users).

If you enjoy the podcast, please share it! We look forward to recording more of these and continuing to chronicle and share the story of life in Chengdu.

A Question For You:

Have you ever done any white monkey work? If so, what was your experience? We would love to hear what you think about your experiences or this podcast in the comments below.

14 thoughts on “Podcast Ep. #8: White Monkey Work”

  1. I did a few gigs with Rachael she was a great entertainer. I used to do loads of solo singing gigs, but in the last year have been undercut by the influx of Ukrainian and Russian entertainers. These guys are doing gig for 400rmb. I’m not willing to work for that much… Also my wife has a Entertainment company she treats all her foreign workers with respect, but sometimes they don’t give her respect. Great podcast.

    • I never experienced this, but that makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of expats in China now from places like Russia and former Soviet states that are willing to work for much cheaper. And this makes so much sense: they are willing to work hard, they fulfill China’s general preference for caucasian performers, and they are much cheaper.

      • Yep. I feel like what Eli said in the podcast. I was under the illusion that they wanted me for my singing abilities, but after seeing some of these new guys. It was just for my white face. I actually had a gig last Friday for a plastic surgery company. They had the topless Lowai models and a Tibetan monk giving a talk on the values of the spirit.

  2. Thanks for naming me queen of the white monkees lols Miss you guys. We had sooooo much fun. In my mind you are all awesome monkees, so well trained and not too smelly. Oo Oo Oo. We were lucky to be there during the ‘high point’. xxx Kisses to you all.

    • We miss you in the du! Hope you are doing well. If you ever come back this way, drop us a line… there is no doubt work awaiting you here. And if you are not interested in being the queen of the white monkeys, there is always food, fun, and fellowship.

      Give my best to your family!

    • Hahaha! So happy to see you leave a comment here. I think you might always be remembered as queen of foreign performers in Chengdu, at least certainly in the DJ space. Hope everything’s great with you and Hakim in the UK.

  3. I did the real estate gig about 6 years ago, but all i was required to do was stand around in a suit. Apparently i was supposed to be an investor/architect/construction expert? It was never made clear and not a single person approached me or asked a question. Thank god, cos i was not preped at all :)3 hour gig, decent money i think….

  4. Hey, great episode guys! I definitely had my fair share of these jobs while I was in Chengdu. Some were pretty interesting, some were incredibly bizarre, and some a bit demeaning. The range of jobs can vary based on skin color for sure. You might have a bit rougher time in some situations if you’re on the darker side of the spectrum. I’ve taken up the role of a “chocolate angel” at a random wedding before. I’m sure you can use your imagination on that one. For the most part, I think a lot of the jobs can be pretty fun if you’re willing to go with the flow. Only truly annoying thing was people trying to extend the length of the job for the same pay. I think I was pretty used to it by that point though.

    Anyway, I just wanted to chime in real quick. Good to hear some interesting stories from Chengdu, brings me right back.

    Oh right, this is (American) Chris that played soccer. I’m assuming either Eli or Dan see this.

    • Chris! Glad this somehow made it to your ears. Yeah, I can imagine the work for darker-skinned foreigners can be worse since you’re even more exoticized in Chinese eyes. I foresee a China in our lifetime (maybe towards the end, at least) where they’re less wowed by white and black bodies and faces to the point where these jobs don’t really exist anymore (at least in 1st and 2nd tier cities). I could be wrong though.

      I think I returned to Chengdu just after you left… where are you now and what are you up to? You ever coming back? Hope you’re doing well!

  5. Yeah, I could possibly see that at some point. Like you guys mentioned, most of these jobs aren’t even in the city itself. Chengdu definitely needs a bit of time, but it’s already pretty noticeable with the younger population there.

    Not sure when you returned to Chengdu, but I’ve been back in the States for about a year and a half now. Currently in the furnace that is Phoenix. I might be able to weasel my way back over there at some point if I can convince my company. Hopefully it won’t be too long.

    • Chris! Great to hear from you!

      Hope that you are doing well. I think I have a vague recollection of seeing a picture of you from the chocolate angel gig you are referring to. Those are the kind of jobs that require a certain set of skills… no one ever paid me to stand around with my shirt off.

      Hopefully soon we will get around to doing a podcast with the Andy and Dave from the CIFL, and we can talk about the domination of the league during its inaugural season by your, my, and Dan’s team. #Former Glory.

  6. Hey, Eli! Yeah, standing/walking around shirtless in front a confused crowd of Chinese people definitely requires some skills. I owe my thanks to Zoolander for teaching me so much. Would love to hear about what’s going on with CIFL and our domination of it in the beginning. 🙂


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